OIL THEFT: WHY I DOUBT BUHARI’S SINCERITY
Renowned labour unionist and former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori in this revealing interview published by The Sun Newspaper, traced the history of oil theft in Nigeria and proffered solutions on what Buhari-led administration can do to tackle the menace of oil theft which has brought Nigeria economy to it’s kneels headlong.
The issue of oil theft has become a big threat to the national economy. Having been involved in the oil industry for so many years as a union leader, how do you see the menace of stealing of oil that is ongoing?
The oil theft issue has been on for so many years. It worsened in the last 10 years, but became unprecedented in the last three or four years. Now, it has gone crazy. I left NUPENG when Nigeria was producing 2.5 million barrels per day. The least was 2.2 barrels per day and the refineries were all working. Later the military destroyed the refineries because they wanted to be importing refined oil, bringing bogus bills on subsidy. So, it became a cartel and it has enriched so many Nigerians. That is why you see them flaunting money and building mansions that they can’t even live in. This aspect of stealing raw crude became more rampant in the last four years ago. And now, it has reached an alarming proportion. I think the blame should be on government, including the NNPPC, for being unable to clamp down on small vandals before the barons entered in collaboration with the military. When people talk about community protecting the pipelines, I know they can’t because if they report to the military, the military will kill them. So, you don’t blame the communities, they are very helpless. It is a shame on the part of the government. It is a disgrace that we have got to a stage where we now produce 800 barrels per day. In the past, we used to over produce and OPEC would say cut it. Now, they gave us 1.8 million barrels we can’t even produce 900 to 1 million barrels per day. It is a shame. I only hope that they will be more serious to deal with it now. People should be sanctioned, they should be punished. The military and the police are deeply involved. When you have state and National Assembly that are compliant, there is no way they can check the government and the stealing activities that are going on in the country. That is why the social media has become so powerful in the country. Now that the military are into the monitoring activities, they should go full blast and get the people involved arrested.
What makes it impossible for the government to tame the menace in the first instance?
Everybody in Nigeria has a price. That’s all. Every security man has a price. And who benefits? They are the cabals in Abuja. These things happen on swamp pipelines. That is why it is difficult to arrest. They do it right in the villages, but you dare not report it. If you do, they will deal with you. You will be killed and nobody will raise an eyebrow about it. The Nigerian police are one of the worst in the world. The good ones are about 10 per cent, the rest are thieves. So also the military. The military men themselves have understood the business. And that is why they lobby to be transferred to the Niger Delta, especially Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa. And most of the people they transfer there are Northern officers. In those days, Northern officers used to be very clean. But when they now see their leaders giving them counter instruction, and telling them to make returns, they follow suit. It is the failure of the state.
How about the international collaborators? Do they also have their own price too?
International collaborators are unofficial criminals. Every part of the world has rogues. Where are the mafias from? Are they not international people? No government in the world wants criminals, but criminals will always exit. There are international rogues, but not the government. Why are Shell, Chevron, Mobil, and Total pulling out? The reason is that they have done their best and you can now see that they are moving far offshore because you can’t go far offshore to do anything. You can’t go into the middle of Atlantic to say you want to siphon Nigerian oil.
Now that the military which is normally regarded as the most disciplined national institution is enmeshed in this corrupt scandal, what does this portend for the country?
The military is the most powerful institution in every part of the world. But the military has the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who can withdraw you and take your service ranks from you and even retire you before your time. So, the whole thing lies on the Commander-in-Chief and the Service Chiefs. But today, when you see a retired Service Chief, you see him with a beautiful mansion and billions of naira and foreign hard currency. A captain could be in a strategic position and make more money than a Major-General that is just sitting at the Army Headquarters. Now that they focus their lens in the area, we can only hope they will make a good fight of it. That is what they are saying in recent weeks with exposure of the rot in the industry.
We love Buhari so much and that is why some of us insisted that it must be him, but he has failed the country. He left all the Service Chiefs to do what they liked. And that is one of his weak areas. He does not discipline them. We used to see him as a tough General who fought for the country, but now he can’t do anything anymore. He surrounds himself with selfish money-minded individuals that I always call Cabal. They have destroyed the country economically and socially as bandits have taken over the country. But I think he has given a strong order now, which is what he should have done a long time ago.
The National Assembly has done some investigation into this issue of oil theft, but everything amounts to naught. The lawmakers in both chambers only lament without any concrete action to stop the menace. Why has it become almost impossible for the government to tame the cabal in the oil industry?
That is what I have given you by telling you the per cent of personnel that are good in the military and the police. The judiciary is not better either. Even when the police or military catches oil barons and take them to you, charge oil baron to court, we all know what happens. They just detain them for some few weeks and later discharge them on frivolous technical grounds. Bad government permeates every aspect or institution in the country. The NNPC is a corrupt institution. When I was in NUPENG, you see people resigning from their positions in Shell or Mobil to go and take smaller salaries in NNPC. Shell and other big multinationals pay very well, take care of your accommodation, your health, insurance, but you can’t cut corners with them. So, some people will leave big jobs with big salaries and go to the NNPC of those days with smaller salaries because they know what they will get when they get there if they are put in strategic positions. Those are the kind of people who have now become an institution directing the multinationals. Big corporations like Shell, Chevron, AGIP and Mobil have a code of ethics. If you cross their red line; they fire you. But in Nigeria, if you cross the red line, you go and settle. For what we are passing through now, the Nigerian civil society -labour, the media and the Non-governmental Organisations – should have been the bedrock of protecting this country by putting the government and the National Assembly on their toes. When we had people like the late Gani Fawehinmi, Bala Usman and others, there was pressure on government. Since they died, we don’t have strong NGOs again because they themselves have been compromised. I know what people like myself went through during the military. It’s people like us that made PENGASAN to be strong.
I was in my 30s then; we stood against the military to fight for our democracy. Yet, up till now, I don’t have a national award. Without me, there would have been no democracy in this country. Abacha did not fear anybody, but he was afraid of NUPENG. I went to desert prison; I suffered for so many years without being taken to court. If I had a price, I would have compromised. In other climes, they will beg me to take an award. Most of the awards I won, I won them internationally. There is one they call George Meany Award by the American Federation of Labour. It is one of the greatest awards in America. I got that one with foreign currency, but my country did not give me any award. Everything revolves around corruption. Anything you want you can always get it by cash and carry. The All Progressives Congress, APC, which is my party could not fulfill its three cardinal agenda because of corruption. I don’t know if Buhari is genuinely sincere. If he is sincere, the country would have moved more than this.
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